Jus' folks

Northwest Folklife proves a fun, rare festival of our day

If you threw a guitar in the air at Seattle Center over the weekend, the person who ended up catching it would probably be able to play a little Dylan on it.
The Northwest Folklife Festival reared its eclectic and completely unique head for four days in Seattle and what an adventure it was. And like the Louvre or New York City, there was just too much to see at Folklife to see it all.
There were bands, vendors, craftsmakers, foodmakers, vaudevillians, magicians, vagabonds, artists and buskers galore. And everywhere you looked, there was somebody strumming a guitar with a guitar case, jar or hat out in front with bills and change growing out of it. They lined the thoroughfares, they played the various temporary stages while visitors, who came in as many shapes, sizes and colors as the artisans, strolled leisurely while gnawing on corn on the cob on a stick. They wore wolf hats, Cat in the Hat hats, dirty vests, homemade shoes, rainbow moo-moos, pirate pants and Wicked Witch of the East leggings. They laughed and danced spontaneously. They stood on exercise balls while whirling a hula-hoop and playing a violin all under a bowler hat. The scary, aging hippy swirled rainbow scarves on the lawn while the young, high schooler from Olympia slam-danced by the fountain. The one oddity about this veritable traveling city of kindness, freedom, humor and fun, was that nary a soul held an iPhone or tapped a text. Cameras abounded, but something about the nature of Folklife, with its optional entry fee and, for example, the woman with the sign reading: Free Hugs, suggested it was a time to reconnect with humanity on a face-to-face and heart-to-heart level.
"I like how there's music everywhere," said first-timer Susie Spenader of Olympia. "And the smells."
And the grey, rainy skies couldn't keep the thousands of visitors away. Saturday afternoon, the anarcha folk band Slow Teeth out of Portland took the Alki Court stage. Rachel Rabble played the eerie sounding saw while Hydra-Benjamin plucked a somber banjo.
Bond Aster and his friend, Heather Pendergast, of Seattle whiled away the time to the music. Aster had been to Folklife a few times but this was Pendergast's maiden voyage. They were glad to see "more young people" checking out what a folk world had to offer. They interpreted it as a sign of the festival's (2010 marked its 38th year) promise of longevity.
Getting in on all the fun were the Seattle SeaChordsmen Barbershop Chorus. The group played Saturday and had a "good turnout of men and women wanting to learn how to sing four-part a cappella harmony," said member Bill Bush. "It was great fun for us to sing for them, teach them, and then have them sing with us."
Out in front of the Key Arena, the old-timey busker band, The Drunken Catfish Ramblers Traveling Medicine Show and Hokum Minstrals intrigued several visitors. The trio were Bob on mandolin, Greg on guitar and Matt on violin. The haggard 20-somethings looked like they had just spent a few weeks riding a 1930s era freight train: rail thin, weather worn but true believers.
Greg, wearing a driver's cap and vest, sang train songs with the gravelly tones a la Tom Waits and with as much conviction. A retired Boeing worker who would only give his name as Ken, had heard that Bob, Greg and Matt had just hitchhiked all the way from San Diego and were literally singing for their supper.
Instead of putting money in their open guitar case, Ken put three cups of yogurt and some healthy-style chicken nuggets.
"The buskers here are always better than what you would pay $100 for at The Paramount," Ken said. "You owe it to yourself to see the buskers." As for his unusual act of kindness, he just smiled.
In fact, smiling was infectious at Folklife, as was a pervasive sense of humor. Bands had silly or clever names such as The Dirty Commies and All Strings Considered. Several people walked around holding hilarious signs such as "Free Love Songs, $1," "Free Hugs," "Ask an Asian, 25 cents a question," and "Lessons in Flight," the owner of the latter clearly not an expert in modern aviation.
While Portland's frenetic pirate-punk sextet Rum Rebellion rocked the Fountain Lawn Stage with originals such as "Terrible Tilly," the Eckstein Middle School Combo held their own nearby with standards and jazzy hits such as Miles Davis' "Boplicity." Drummer Luke Woodle said the combo had been playing at school for some time and he suggested they play Folklife.
Bandmates, Lise Ramaley, bass; Natalie Barry, sax; James Leroux, tenor sax; and Jeffrey Gustaveson, trumpet, happily agreed. Visitors seemed to approve, too. The combo's pickle jar out in front was stuffed with bills.[[In-content Ad]]